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Deputy Corrections Commissioner Says Department Changed Policy After Inmate's Solitary Confinement

The deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections says he’s confident that what happened to Maine State Prison inmate Douglas Burr won’t and can’t happen again.

Burr spent 22 months in solitary confinement without ever being charged with misconduct. He was told that in order to be released to general population, he’d have to admit that he trafficked in drugs.

Speaking by cellphone, Dr. Ryan Thornell, deputy commissioner, says that since Burr’s release from segregation, the DOC has revised its policies and practices.

“We would not have a situation where someone would remain in restrictive housing the way he did without a disciplinary finding or without some serious act of violence or a threat against a facility, which is really our criteria for restrictive housing placements going forward,” he says.

Last week a Superior Court judge ruled that Burr’s due process rights were repeatedly violated, but she did not believe there was a remedy she could grant him, in part because the DOC has put in place a system of “meaningful reviews” of segregation placements. The process requires staff to meet with prisoners on a regular basis and is overseen by the prison warden and by Thornell himself.